The First Thing You Should Do When You Get Heartburn

If you've never experienced heartburn, then the term itself might seem more fit for a '50s doo-wop song than a medical diagnosis. But for those who deal with the tight burning sensation behind their breastbone, it's nothing to tap your toes to. And, just to make matters worse, heartburn can also be a sign of acid reflux, a more serious condition where stomach acid surges up into the esophagus (via Piedmont Health).

Heartburn may not carry the same risks as acid reflux, but it is still an intensely uncomfortable experience that can turn former comfort foods into disasters waiting to happen. Caffeine, high-fat content, and high-acid contents are all hallmarks of food that can trigger a round of heartburn, per the Cleveland Clinic. So a Sunday dinner of macaroni and cheese with a soda on the side might be the start of a long and uncomfortable night.

The condition does more than cause pain behind a person's breastbone or a burning feeling in the throat. Heartburn can also affect a person's ability to swallow and leave a salty or acidic taste on the back of a person's tongue that they can't shake, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And while the condition isn't always easy to sidestep, there are a few things that can make a flare-up more manageable if they're done early enough.

Grab some gum

Most anti-heartburn advice focuses on either speaking with a doctor or making lifestyle changes. And both options are sound suggestions. Some medications can cause heartburn, according to Harvard Health, so talking to your doctor may allow for a medication change that no longer contributes to acid reflux.

However, changing your medication may not always help. Even if the medications are one trigger, there may be others that still keep you up late rubbing your chest. In these cases, Harvard Health suggests restricting the amount of caffeine, spicy food, acid, and fat in your diet. Losing weight, sleeping on a slight incline, and cutting out late-night meals are also good options for people who want to change their lifestyles to combat heartburn.

Lifestyle changes can't stop a flare-up, and they don't take effect immediately. Harvard Health has a suggestion for how to find immediate heartburn relief, however. They suggest chewing a piece of gum to promote salivation. The saliva helps neutralize stomach acid and protects the esophagus until the flare-up passes.